TORONTO—Fast food chain McDonald’s has stopped running a misleading “greenwashing” ad campaign about its Quarter Pounder burger after Animal Justice filed a legal complaint, prompting investigations by federal authorities.
The ads claimed that the Quarter Pounder burger was “now sustainably sourced”, but in the fine print, the company conceded that only 30% or more of the beef used in the Quarter Pounder was from “certified sustainable sources”. Animal Justice requested that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (“the CFIA”) and Competition Bureau investigate the ads, which appeared on billboards and in transit stations in major cities across Canada. Animal Justice’s complaint pointed out that Canadians are increasingly looking for ethical and environmentally sustainable products, and that falsely claiming that beef is sustainable might dupe consumers into buying products they would otherwise avoid.
“Beef is not green, and trying to dupe consumers into thinking otherwise can be false advertising—which is illegal,” said Camille Labchuk, a lawyer and executive director of Animal Justice. “Animal Justice is thrilled that the Competition Bureau and CFIA took this greenwashing case seriously, and that McDonald’s has stopped running these misleading ads. Consumers should not be left with the false impression that a Quarter Pounder from McDonald’s is an environmentally friendly or sustainable meal. To the contrary, farming cows for food is a major driver of human-caused climate change, as well as water pollution and biodiversity loss.”
According to conservative estimates, animal agriculture produces approximately 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions—about the same percentage as the entire transportation sector. Beef and dairy production are responsible for the vast majority of these emissions. Animal agriculture is also a primary driver of biodiversity loss.
The Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (“CRSB”) requirements that McDonald’s relied on for its sustainable sourcing certification have also been criticized as vague and unenforceable, leaving the door wide open for greenwashing.
The Competition Bureau confirmed to Animal Justice that it opened an inquiry into the misleading ads, and worked with McDonald’s to facilitate voluntary compliance with relevant consumer protection laws. The CFIA also carried out an investigation, and discussed the matter with the company. The CFIA confirmed that the company then decided to stop running the ads.